by Gilbert David Nuñez
Seeking solutions to painful school funding cuts imposed since 2008, Oklahoma educators, parents, administrators and students will rally at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City on March 31. As many as 25,000 people are expected to let state legislators know that schools are at a breaking point.
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The state has already faced greater per pupil cuts than any other state since 2008 and is 49th in the nation in per pupil expenditures, according to recent data provided by the Oklahoma State Department of Education.
Elementary school teacher and Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) President Linda Hampton said:
Oklahoma’s children deserve better. We cannot continue to expect our schools to operate in 2014 on a 2008 budget. The education of Oklahoma’s children must be a top priority of our legislators.
Despite an increase of some 40,000 students since 2008, the legislature has slashed approximately $220 million from education in that period. With a $300 million tax credit for oil and gas companies set to expire next year, rally organizers and participants are urging the legislature to end the credit and instead divert that money into the state’s education fund.
Time is of the essence. The legislature has until May 30 to pass a budget before it adjourns for the year. Participants are hoping that a unified voice for increased school funding can make the difference.
Before class sizes continue to increase or more educational programs for students are cut, rally-goers say they would like to see the state increase school spending to pre-recession levels. Citing 678,000 reasons (the number of students in Oklahoma) for change, advocates argue that schools are unable to recruit or retain the best and most highly qualified teachers. Oklahoma is ranked 49th in the nation and last in the region in teacher pay.
Hampton said, “I certainly appreciate all of the people who will be at the rally. Their participation shows they care enough to stand up for the children of Oklahoma and public education.”
The more than 35,000 members of OEA are part of the Oklahoma Education Coalition. Other members of the Coalition are the Oklahoma State School Boards Association, the Oklahoma Parents and Teachers Association, the Cooperative Council of Oklahoma School Administration and many local groups. The Coalition drafted resolution language that many local school boards have adopted to show their support for the rally.